Versailles – March 2014

Experience: 7/10

Written and directed by Peter Gill

Venue: Donmar

Date: Thursday 20th March 2014

Steve rated this higher than me – 8/10 – but I found some aspects of the play rather dull and not totally in line with the rest of the piece. Still, the discussions about the Versailles Treaty were interesting, and there was plenty of period detail and humour to enhance the otherwise dry nature of the subject matter. And Leonard’s passion about the fate of the Saar coalfields in Germany brought out the importance of this treaty in laying the groundwork for WWII. It was mainly the homosexual relationship between Leonard and Gerald which I felt was out of place in terms of the play’s scope – why was this relationship between Leonard and Gerald’s ghost relevant to the time, the subject or the rest of the play?

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Small Change – May 2008

2/10

By Peter Gill

Directed by Peter Gill

Venue: Donmar Theatre

Date: Thursday 15th May 2008

The performances were all excellent, honest, it’s just that the play didn’t really work for me. Both Steve and I came up with the same word afterwards – pretentious.

Written in 1976, this appeared to be an attempt by Peter Gill to write in a Greek tragedy style, but based on ordinary lives, and while there was much to enjoy in some aspects, there was a lot of terribly dull stuff, too. For example, I very much liked the dialogue between the two mothers; it was well observed and reminded me of the Fifties, what little I could remember. The halting, jerky exchanges between the two sons also came across well – the way they didn’t answer each other’s questions and the sudden changes of direction. For humour, there was the chase sequence as young Gerard runs round the stage to keep away from a mother hell bent on giving him a hiding.

But apart from these things, there was nothing to keep me from nodding off, as I did occasionally in the second half. Once the two men had admitted their obvious feelings for one another, going right back to their childhoods, there was a long section where they simply yelled at each other, to no useful purpose. Very dull.

There was no set, just the four actors and four chairs, which were moved around a few times. The action was mainly in flashback, topped and tailed by Gerard’s poetic reminiscences of two photographs from his childhood. In between, there was a generally forward momentum, but I wasn’t always sure where we were, time-wise, and that definitely reduced my enjoyment. It was also a bit confusing having Vincent’s mother alive again after she’d died. I wasn’t sure if that was a flashback or an alternative storyline, and while I normally love ambiguity in a play, the impression here was that the writing wasn’t up to the job.

Not a play I’d see again, but superb performances from the whole cast.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Importance Of Being Earnest – September 2007

6/10

By: Oscar Wilde

Directed by: Peter Gill

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 24th September 2007

This was a little disappointing. With Penelope Keith being the main attraction we were worried it might be a star vehicle, and although it wasn’t quite that bad, it did seem to have been let down a bit by the strange emphasis on Victorian cultural references. By this I mean that on several occasions I found myself thinking how topical a line would have been in Wilde’s day, probably hot off the press, but as I didn’t know the background, I couldn’t find it particularly funny. I had read the program notes, so some lines made more sense, but there were others that I was still clueless about.

Still, there was a lot to enjoy, mainly because Wilde’s writing is so good that no production can keep it down for long. I found the men a bit dull in the opening scene. Although they’d been well cast to resemble each other, they didn’t have much sparkle, and made up for it by being brisk, which doesn’t really help. The women, however, were splendid (and had better costumes, of course). This Gwendolyn will be a magnificent match for Lady Bracknell in a relatively short time, and Cecily was as conceited a romantic little bunny as one could wish to find in Hertfordshire. The parson was good and Miss Prism was excellent – I’ve never seen a better performance of the part. Penelope Keith was good enough as Lady Bracknell, although she was probably the worst for losing lines – delivering them in as inconspicuous a way as possible, just in case we enjoyed them.

With this strange direction, the play lost some of its sparkle, but rose above the difficulties many times. Even knowing what line is about to come doesn’t spoil it. I remain impressed with Wilde’s work, and dubious about the motives behind this production. However, we’re seeing another touring production later this year, so it will be interesting to compare notes.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Gaslight – July 2007

8/10

By: Frederick Knott

Directed by: Peter Gill

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date: Wednesday 25th July 2007

This was good fun. It’s a well-known story, so I don’t have to explain much. The performances were excellent, getting as much detail as you could possibly get out of each character. The whole production was just about perfect, the set and costumes all contributing to the overall effect.

First, the set. The detail was amazing. For once, we actually get to see the hall and stairs outside of the living room, and the dressing room to the left where ex-Detective Rough hides. The main room is full of knick-knacks, the walls lined with pictures (apart from the obvious gap), and everything was draped with heavy fabrics. Above the walls, we could see some chimney tops and sky, which I felt was the only slight (and I emphasise slight) negative for the design. The significance of the noises in the upstairs room is lessened when there doesn’t seem to be an upstairs to have strange noises.

Rosamund Pike as Bella Manningham gave a marvellous central performance. She reminded me of Grace Kelly – she has the same luminous quality, projecting innocence and decency, and easily making us sympathise with her predicament. She was all nerves and paleness, starting up from her seat with every fleeting emotion. It was a very clear picture of a woman driven to near madness by a scheming and unsympathetic husband. Her moment of revenge was also very good, as she reprised her madness for her husband’s benefit (or rather, to his detriment). I got the impression that she’ll be all right now she’s out of his clutches.

Andrew Woodall as her husband, Jack Manningham, delivered a matching performance. He was creepy without being over the top, although he was very menacing with Elizabeth, the housekeeper. I found it uncomfortable at times to see how he was manipulating his wife to keep her unbalanced, and drive her deeper into despair. It was good to see him get his comeuppance, though I would have liked to have seen his expression as she tormented him briefly at the end (he had his back to us).

Kenneth Cranham played ex-Detective Rough, and gave the part full gravitas and authority. It seems a tricky part, carrying most of the exposition, but a seasoned performer like Kenneth wasn’t about to let us down. With the dressing room in view, we get to see him avoiding the husband when he’s changing his collar and tie, and that certainly added to the tension. He also contributed most of the humour, including skipping nimbly round the room on occasion.

What also added to the tension was the excellent reactions of Rowena Cooper as Elizabeth, the housekeeper who does her best to help Bella. Knowing that Rough is hiding in the dressing room, she waits for the outcry from Mr Manningham, and her expression changes wonderfully as she realises they might just get away with it. This is the point where Mr Manningham behaves threateningly towards her, so she has to cover quite a range in one scene. She recovers well to swear undying loyalty to the husband, but we know where her heart lies.

Sally Tatum as Nancy, the sluttish maid who intimidates Bella, was also excellent. She played a first-class guttersnipe, if that’s not too much of a contradiction, and talk about wanton! When asked to kiss the Bible, she almost manages to slip it the tongue!

The attention to detail included the business of tea-pouring, cigar lighting, and, of course, lighting the gas lamps. Nobody rushed these things, and the pace felt right for the times. In particular, Bella takes her time to pour the tea so delicately, and all these points helped to create a real sense of time and place. The claustrophobia was also evident, and when Rough is talking about the murder of Alice Barlow, I felt there was ghost story hovering in the wings. Despite the feeling of menace, however, there were also a few good laughs, including a topical one when Rough mentioned that the weather “merits a world of comment at the moment” (we’ve been having a lot of rain and flooding recently).

All these factors combined to make for a very enjoyable afternoon, and the best production I’ve seen of this play. The audience obviously agreed, and when they took their bows, we booed Mr Manningham, and cheered Rough and Bella. Great fun.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Voysey Inheritance – June 2006

Experience: 6/10

By Harley Granville Barker

Directed by Peter Gill

Venue: Lyttelton Theatre

Date: Thursday 1st June 2006

Interesting. Steve and I saw a production of this play many years ago, also by the National, but put on in the Cottesloe. Admittedly, I’ve forgotten a lot about that production, but even so, there was a remarkable difference between the two. The previous production was naturally more intimate, seemed to put more emphasis on the scenes in the office, and had more weight to it, less humour. This current production feels more balanced; if anything, the scenes at the family home take precedence, and there’s a much lighter touch throughout. Perhaps it’s simply the difference in the political and social climates then and now, but the play seems very contemporary this time around, very relevant to today’s situations.

I did find the length of time between scenes a little frustrating. Although the elaborate sets created a strong sense of place and time, the pauses to change them over led to a bit of momentum being lost. And why did we need to see a tree at the back of the office building? Nobody went out into the garden or even looked out of a window.

Overall, I suspect I would prefer the earlier production, if I could remember it clearly, but this was a very good effort. Again, we were struck by how fresh some older plays can seem, if they’re well written.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me